February 16, 2023

Sitrep for February 14-15 (as of 02:00 p.m.) 

The situation on the frontline

In the Kupiansk direction, Russian forces are still making unsuccessful offensive attempts trying to push Ukrainian troops across the Oskil River. Experts note that Russian servicemen of the 2nd Motorized Rifle Division have been accumulated in the Belgorod region near that part of the Russian border, which is located closest to the Kupiansk direction. The Division consists of mobilized soldiers who had been trained in Belarus for several months. The Belarusian Hajun project [monitoring group] has been spotting trainloads of mobilized soldiers traveling from Belarus to the Belgorod region and other regions of Russia since mid-January. Therefore, it is the Kupiansk direction where an intensification of combat activities is expected in the coming weeks.

There have been practically no changes on the frontline, but the scale of combat activities has slightly increased in the Kreminna direction, where Russian units of Airborne Forces, the 3rd Motorized Rifle Division, the 144th Motorized Rifle Division of the 2nd Army Corps, and the BARS [Special Combat Army Reserve] volunteer unit fight supported by the 1st Mobile NBC Protection Brigade.

In the Vuhledar direction, a Russian TOS-1A MLRS was destroyed by artillerymen of the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the AFU.

After the capture of Soledar, Russian forces, aside from trying to capture Bakhmut, also began to advance toward Siversk.

Since the AFU closed access to Bakhmut for civilians, including volunteers and journalists, on Feb. 13, there has been no information about the situation in the town, which can only be judged by publications in open sources now. Apparently, the AFU has not begun retreating from Bakhmut yet. The commander of the 45th Separate Artillery Brigade of the AFU reported in an interview on parity in artillery established in the Bakhmut direction, adding that the intensity of attacks has decreased. Nevertheless, the situation in the town remains unfavorable for Ukrainian forces.

Сonscript Sergey Gridin committed suicide in a military unit in the Moscow region, leaving a note in which he explained his actions by the fact that he had been forced to go to Ukraine “in rotation” by bullying. According to him, none of those who went there from his company ever returned back. Therefore, he "decided to die here in his native land, with no one's blood on his hands."

We believe that, most likely, it does not mean that conscripts are sent to war but that there is still a problem of understaffing of contract servicemen, which is already a well-known fact. So, conscripts are persuaded or forced to sign a contract in the same way as before so that the commanders of military units do not have any issues with the higher command due to an incomplete staff.

We also recall that about 90,000 conscripts called up last spring will be transferred to the reserve by April; after that, they can be called up for mobilization. We have not received any other reports about sending conscripts to the “special military operation.”

CNN published an article about the Storm unit, allegedly manned by convicts recruited by Russia’s Ministry of Defense. It is assigned to military unit 08807, which has existed for quite some time and is better known as the 7th Brigade of the 2nd Army Corps of the “LPR People's Militia.” According to some sources, the recruitment has been ongoing for several months. Viktor Sevalnev, a convict, whom Vladimir Osechkin from Gulagu.net [No more GULAG, a Russian anti-torture human rights organization, and website] had previously written about, served in that exact unit. Having encountered beatings and torture in his penal colony, he signed a contract with the Ministry of Defense, went to the front line, was wounded, managed to contact his wife from the hospital, and told her he was about to face a firing squad. The woman was later informed that her husband had died from a wound.

Yevgeny Prigozhin [Russian oligarch, confidant of Vladimir Putin, and the owner of the Wagner Group] said why, in his opinion, he was sidelined from convict recruitment:

  • “Exceptionally high-performance efficiency puts some officials in an awkward situation, and also discredits the work of some units in other sectors of the front”;
  • the Wagner Group treats convicts as equal fighters, which irritates the paramilitary brass;
  • "a certain number of paramilitary officials" want to recruit convicts to "become as famous as the Wagner Group."

We can’t agree with either of the points; the whole statement looks like propaganda.

Prigozhin also appeared in a video with Dmitry Yakushchenko, who had allegedly been executed with a sledgehammer (recall that the video of the execution looked staged). Yakushchenko did not answer questions from journalists about his return from captivity, and Prigozhin explained that Yakushchenko was forgiven for being captured because he had provided a lot of useful information.

An active PR campaign has begun in pro-Russian media for the “Kaskad” [Cascade] Special Unit, in the ranks of which Russian parliamentarians are allegedly serving. Only representatives of the United Russia party [Putin’s ruling party] are known to have gone to the front line. Some of them changed their minds before departure; others secretly got off the train heading to the front line.

Pictures then are taken of the parliamentarians carrying firearms near the front lines, in the areas priorly mopped up by professional troops.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that, firstly, according to the alliance, the announced offensive has already begun, and secondly, now Ukraine's Western partners will try to focus on ramping up the production of artillery rounds and ammunition. According to him, problems of Ukraine’s ammunition shortages lead to the fact that, at the moment, the waiting time for factory delivery has increased from one year to two-and-a-half years.

Following the first day of the Ramstein Format meeting, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters that he had nothing to say about the supply of fighter jets to Ukraine, but Western countries would try to supply Ukraine with as much ammunition as quickly as possible.

The Financial Times writes that the United States, trying to find additional weapons for Ukraine around the world, offered Latin American countries to donate their aging Russian-made military vehicles and Leopard tanks and, in return, to receive superior American weaponry. Unfortunately, all countries that at least somehow commented on this offer refused. Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina have said they are for peace, not for continued war, and therefore will not hand over weapons. Also, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile refused Olaf Scholz, who was trying to negotiate the purchase of tank ammunition. Chile only agreed to help with clearing mines. The President of Mexico publicly criticized Scholz for agreeing to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, saying Berlin had been forced to do so against the wishes of most Germans.

The governments of the Netherlands and Denmark have announced that neither country will deliver Leopard-2 tanks; the reasons are still unknown.

Greece has transferred ammunition and 20 BMP-1 IFVs to Ukraine, which are part of a circular supply in exchange for Marder IFVs from Germany. Another 20 BMP-1 IFVs are promised to be handed over to Ukraine by the end of the year.

According to The Wall Street Journal sources, the US authorities are considering transferring to Ukraine smuggled Iranian weapons and ammunition intercepted by the American fleet off the coast of Yemen (Iran is supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels in defiance of a U.N. Security Council resolution). In the past two months alone, the US and its allies have captured thousands of assault rifles, dozens of ATGMs, and 1.6 million rounds of small arms ammunition.

The Washington Post publishes a column by experts from the Center for a New American Security (former CIA analyst Andrea Kendall-Taylor and director of the Middle East security program Jonathan Lord) calling for the transfer of these Iranian weapons to Ukraine. According to the authors of the article, this unusual decision will open up a new source of weapons.

In one of the April sitreps, we showed photographs of Chinese Type 56-1 assault rifles found in a cache in Kryvyi Rih. We have no doubt that these are Iranian weapons captured off the coast of Yemen and not purchased through intermediary companies (rocket shells for the Grad MLRS are a rather scarce resource and theoretically could have been purchased from Iran through intermediaries). Thus, the transfer has been going on for a long time.

Photos from the German port of Bremerhaven have been published. There, American military vehicles for Ukraine are arriving, and 60 M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and 280 units of other equipment are currently located.

Part of the Western press has the perception that the current Russian offensive is not yet large enough and that some crucial turning point should be expected in the spring. For example, the Financial Times writes that Russia is accumulating military personnel, fighter jets, bombers, and helicopters near the Russian-Ukrainian border. The article says that the army field camps used last winter and spring (near Voronezh, in the Kursk and Belgorod regions) are filled with mobilized soldiers who have completed their training in Belarus and other regions. We do not expect these mobilized people to be thrown to the front now because they are being used to replace the losses of already fighting units.

Also, some Western experts believe that the Russian air force has not suffered great losses and that it will be sent en masse in the spring as part of some sort of air campaign. However, the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces effectively countered Russia’s air force at the beginning of this invasion, and now, after the supply of new Western systems, they have become even stronger. Destroying Ukrainian air defense requires good intelligence and long-range, high-precision ammunition, but Russia has neither.

Even if Russia had them, we could clearly see from the experience of Syria how bombing campaigns are carried out by the Russian Air Force — they turn out to be expensive air shows with aerial bombs. That is why we do not believe in the possibility of a large-scale spring air campaign by Russian forces.

A lot of media outlets write that in the so-called "DPR," they have started experimenting with blocking Google services and slowing down Youtube. That is not correct because attempts to block these services in the "DPR" have been going on since 2017-2018.

Ramzan Kadyrov [head of the Russia’s constituent Republic of Chechnya] boasted in an interview with Skabeyeva [well-known Russian propagandist] that he had allegedly received a gun that Hitler shot himself with. However, Hitler shot himself with a Walther PPK while Kadyrov was holding a Mauser Model 1910.